CIA Symposium on the Role of Intelligence in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War

February 1, 2013


 

On Wednesday, January 30, 2013, intelligence officials, Middle East experts, and former policymakers discussed the role of intelligence in the US government’s understanding of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA.

The symposium, entitled “President Nixon and the Role of Intelligence in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War,” marked the public release of more than 400 declassified documents—at least half of them released for the first time—in a collection that includes some 100 “Situation Reports” prepared daily during the crisis. The collection provides unique insight into the role of the CIA Middle East Task Force, which was created as a focal point on the conflict between the intelligence and policy communities. It includes several longer intelligence analyses prepared in response to questions from policymakers.

Participants in the symposium addressed why intelligence analysts were not convinced an attack on Israel was imminent, how the intelligence community pivoted to play a key role in supporting the Nixon Administration during the crisis, and how lessons learned from it were captured for use by future generations of intelligence officers.

“The declassified documents published in this collection are invaluable for the general public, historians, and intelligence analysts,” said keynote speaker Andrew Liepman, former Principal Deputy Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “These documents offer important insight into events that occurred 40 years ago,” he said.

The attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria took intelligence analysts and policymakers by surprise.  Conference participants agreed that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had deceived everyone, including the Israelis.

Charles Allen, a veteran intelligence officer who at the time was in charge of Middle East military assessments, said, “After a shaky beginning, the analysis quickly improved in breadth and depth.”

“After hostilities started, US diplomacy benefited from good tactical intelligence,” said William Quandt, Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and former National Security Council staff member.

Commenting on lessons learned from the past, Martha Neff Kessler, a former head of the CIA’s Arab-Israeli Division and senior intelligence officer, noted, the CIA is teaching analysts “new ways of looking at information.”

The Historical Collections Division (HCD), part of the CIA’s Information Management Services (IMS), sponsored the event and is responsible for the release of more than 3,200 pages of related intelligence materials. In closing remarks, IMS Director Joe Lambert said, “The Agency holds its records in trust for the American people and when their sensitivity lessens over time, we have a duty to make them publicly available.”

A publication with essays on intelligence and the 1973 Arab-Israeli war is available on the CIA’s website.  The entire document collection will be available online soon.  Photos of the events are on the CIA’s Flickr page. Watch a video of the symposium on YouTube [external link disclaimer].